Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chainmail update: 548 rings

Here it is on the same magazine as before so you can compare the difference. I only worked on it three nights this last week, but I managed to make it more than six times bigger (the picture from last week was 88 rings).

I'm going to be out of town next weekend (Friday to Monday), so my next update on this will likely be two weeks from now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Intro to my Robots

I've been into robots ever since I first saw R2-D2 in Star Wars when I was a kid. I saw Star Wars in the theater way back in 1977. I was 7. I have always thought it would be cool to have R2-D2 roaming around my house and stuff. Sadly, It's still a ways off before we have robots with that level of intelligence and ability. Of course, R2-D2 had a person inside of him to help make him such a character, and then there was all the special effects added in (like having him fly or whatever).

Anyway, since I went down the path of computer programming instead of the electronics and hardware path, it was a long time before robots became affordable and easy enough to put together that I could start having my own.  I started with the Lego Mindstorms robot stuff, and it was cool, but I wanted something more like "real" robots with proper sensors and servos and more programmability. I found a lot of that with the VeX Robotics stuff. However, once I discovered Parallax and their robot kits, I found what has worked pretty well for me so far. Really decent base platforms with the ability to work with "normal" sensors made by a lot of different places instead of special ones made specifically for VeX or Mindstorms. They also have a thriving community of really helpful people that I can turn to for help and ideas. Many of the Parallax employees also participate in the community which I think is rad! They are some very cool people.

I've also started learning the electronics stuff I need to know to properly support this hobby. Soldering, resisters, capaciters, transisters, 74xx ICs, 4xxx ICs, and so on. I've got some learning kits from the MakerShed as well as the Make: Electronics book (which is awesome).

So heres my robots.

A Boe-Bot with a PING))) addon kit. It's really easy to program (PBASIC on the Basic Stamp 2), and I've had a lot of fun getting it to roam around avoiding things.

A Stingray with 3 PING))) kit, shaft encoders on the motors, and using R/C car batteries instead of the 6 AA thing it comes with. I also have a compass module and a dual-axis accerometer module stuck on the breadboard that I intend to start utilizing soon. This is like the Boe-Bot's big brother. It's bigger, faster, and a lot more programmable. It's based around the Parallax Propeller MCU. Parallax is busy working on more addon kits for this thing that I am really excited about, like a gripper.

This last robot is still under construction. Its a big round wood platform designed to work with Parallax's really nice motor and wheel kit as well as their caster wheel kit. I've got a pair of their HB-25 motor controllers on there, and an MSR1 controller board as well as a Propeller Protoboard.
I had to do some of my own drilling to mount the HB-25s and the controller boards, plus I have to do my own wiring. I've only gotten the stuff hooked up between the motors and the HB-25s, I've still got to put on the battery wiring to everything. Then I need to secure the wiring and make it look neat. I've got a 20x4 LCD display to put on it, as well as an microSD card port, a Xbee module, and an sram memory board. For sensors I've got a bunch of PING)))'s on backorder, I've got a compass module, and I'll probably take the accelerometer from the Stingray (or maybe get another one). I plan to also get some kind of camera system on there too.

So that's my robots. I'll post an update on the wood platform robot once I have it more completed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Solar USB Charger

So I was watching all of Jaimie's video about making a Giant Robot and other stuff (see the link in the sidebar) and he has a video about how to make a solar USB charger. The very same day that I saw that video, was having a wootoff and I happened to get some Coleman solar panel thingies that are meant for keeping your car battery charged. They were only $12.99 each, and they are 100mA and 15 volts.

I followed Jainie's instructions, and made my own USB charger. It only took 15 minutes. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of everything before I started, and since I have some heat shrink tube covering the soldered bits, you can't see how it is wired. Just watch the video linked above.

This is the finished USB charger.

Closeup of the part I made (7805 regulator and USB connector).

I tested it out on my cell phone and my iPod and it worked for both. So rad, and so easy!